Big thank you from

Haemalbuminuria or Red Water

by the Rambler 28/09/2001

THE 'university' of my childhood had a faculty comprised of a group of sagacious old farmers who met around the kitchen hearth of a winter's night. Some of the lectures that I had included references to murrain (- rin).

The Oxford dictionary's definition reads as follows '... an infectious disease of cattle (plague).'

The particular agricultural sage whom I knew best kept two goats, tethered in a pair to keep them in bounds, which he let run with the cattle. His theory was that they ate a pernicious weed which caused "red water" in cattle. Certain self-styled Aghalee 'authorities' called red.water 'murrain' when the Glasgow 'Sunday Post' printed an item about FMD, some months ago, and referred to FMD as 'murrin', I decided to pose a question in the media to find out if this was correct, and I quoted the views of a retired Moira vet who had told me that 'murrain' (murrin) was caused by the tetse fly.

My published query has stirred up a scholar in Tipperary named Power who has replied at length. The subject is so complex that I dare not attempt to make a precis. Instead, I will quote Mr Power verbatim.

I believe I may be able to offer some little information on the Murrain in cattle. 'Veterinary Counter Practice' compiled by The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, first published in 1891, names Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) as 'the Murrain'.

It would seem that 'the Murrain' as expressed, is of very old usage and it is my belief that it refers to all fatal cattle disease. In Ireland the dread Red Water in cattle has traditionally been named 'the Murrain'.

How long has it been around? The annals of Clonmacnoise, (the translated version) on page 111, records in 694 A.D., 'a great Morren of cows throughout all England' and that in 695 A.D., 'same Morien of cows came into Ireland next year and began in Moyrea in Geaffa'. Was it the FMD? Seems to me the then recording rings close to the outbreak of 2001.

Haemalbuminuria, or Red Water, is common to many parts of Ireland. It is a fatal disease if not treated within 48 hours of manifestation. It is carried by ticks (a parasite which breeds in old sheltered pastures and marly land). The tick latches on to the skin of the cow, sucking its blood. The male tick falls off in about five days, the female remains much longer.


The eggs hatch into larva, which are absorbed by the blood and break up the red corpuscles, setting free the colouring matter of the blood, which is passed out in the urine, hence the name - The Red Water.

The animal becomes ill very quickly and is easily noticed. If treated in the early stages by modern drugs recovery is rapid. Sometimes blood has to be given, which is got at abattoirs.

One infection seems to immunise the animal, as Red Water seldom recurs, many years ago in Australia it was noted that suckling calves running with cows which had been reared on infected land became immune to the disease. I have had the same experience myself with cattle.

Red Water does not affect most other domestic animals or humans. It is the absence of the spleen in cattle which leaves them open to infection. Some years ago a post mortem revealed that a man had died from Red Water - his spleen had been removed after an accident some time previously!

Ulster Star